Better Beer Through Gene Editing

As much as today’s American beer drinker seems to like hoppy IPAs and other pale ales, it’s a shame that hops are so expensive to produce and transport. Did you know that it can take 50 pints of water to grow enough hops to produce one pint of craft beer? While hops aren’t critical to beer brewing, they do add essential oils and aromas that turn otherwise flat-tasting beer into delicious suds.

Using UC Berkley’s own simple and affordable CRISPR-CaS9 gene editing system, researchers [Charles Denby] and [Rachel Li] have edited strains of brewer’s yeast to make it taste like hops. These modified strains both ferment the beer and provide the hoppy flavor notes that beer drinkers crave. The notes come from mint and basil genes, which the researchers spliced in to yeast genes along with the CaS9 protein and promoters that help make the edit successful. It was especially challenging because brewer’s yeast has four sets of chromosomes, so they had to do everything four times. Otherwise, the yeast might reject the donor genes.

So, how does it taste? A group of employees from a nearby brewery participated in a blind taste test and agreed that the genetically modified beer tasted even hoppier than the control beer. That’s something to raise a glass to. Call and cab and drive across the break for a quick video.

Have you always wanted to brew your own beer, but don’t know where to start? If you have a sous vide cooker, you’re in luck.

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Riddle: What Metal Conducts Electricity, But Not Heat?

If you can’t answer the riddle, don’t feel bad. Metal conductors usually conduct electricity and heat. Usually, that’s true, but researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that vanadium dioxide can conduct electricity without conducting heat.

The Wiedemann-Franz Law states that good conductors of electricity are also good conductors of heat. Vanadium dioxide not only switches from an insulator to a conductor at 67C (152F), but it appears that it also doesn’t conduct as much heat as that law predicts while it is in its electrically conductive phase.

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JumpRoaCH Is Kind Of Cute, Kind Of Creepy

There’s a theory that the fear of scurrying things is genetic. Likewise, a similar theory arose about the tendency for humans to find helpless things cute. After all, our useless babies do best in a pest free environment. This all could explain why we found this robotic roach to be both a little cute and a little creepy.

The university sponsored project, JumpRoaCH, is a collaboration between South Korea’s SNU Biorobotics Lab and Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. Imitating insects has been a popular avenue for robotic research, and often results in very interesting experiments.

This robot looks like a ladybug going through its rebellious teen phase. It runs on six hook shaped legs which allow it to traverse a wider array of surfaces than wheels would, at the expense of speed and higher vibrations. The robot does a very convincing, if wobbly, scurry across the surface of its test table.

It also has a secret attack in the form of a single Rockem Sockem Robot arm located on its belly. With a powerful burst, the arm can launch the robot up a few feet to a higher surface. If the robot lands on its wheels the researchers high-five. If the robot lands on its back, it can use its ,”wings,” to flip itself right-side-up again.

The resulting paper (PDF file) has a nice description of the robot and its clever jumping mechanism. At least if these start multiplying like roaches, hackers will never short for tiny motors for their projects. Video after the break.

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